Week 1 – Healthy and Unhealthy Fear
Big Idea – There is healthy and unhealthy fear, we need to know the difference so we can respond appropriately.
Think – Think about the different fears in life and recognize the differences between them.
Feel – Your church should feel empowered in hearing that they can respond to unhealthy fear with power, love, and self-discipline
Do – Learn to recognize the difference between healthy and unhealthy fear and exercise the necessary disciplines in dealing with them.
Prayer – “Lord help us recognize unhealthy fear and respond in the spirit of power, love, and self-discipline that you’ve given us.”
Has anyone here today ever been scared? Has anyone ever been literally – paralyzed by fear – unable to take another step?
Well, we’re all in luck because today we begin a 4-week series called Fear Not. Surprisingly, fear is something the bible has an awful lot to say about.
In fact, the command, fear not appears in one form or another 365 times from Genesis to Revelation. It is specifically given to dozens of different individuals and/or groups in a variety of circumstances. It’s abundantly clear that God doesn’t want His people to fear in the face of adversity or decision. To put it another way, we’ve been given a different, fear not, exhortation for every single day of the year.
With such a clear daily prescription from the creator of the universe, why do we so often respond in fear? What can we do about this and is there a better way?
We begin our Fear Not series with an exploration of Paul’s advice to Timothy in his second letter to the young pastor.
Paul’s encouragement is this, “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (Some translations say timidity in place of fear but the original Greek word can mean either… It can also be translated as cowardice. Obviously, for our study a translation of fear makes the most sense).
If fear doesn’t come from God, then where does it come from? I thought that the beginning of wisdom starts with the fear of the Lord, so what does that mean? What’s the difference?
One important difference to recognize is that there is both a healthy and an unhealthy fear. Understanding the difference could save your life, and it will definitely help you interpret God’s daily encouragement to Fear Not.
Let’s begin with healthy fear.
Healthy fear can literally save your life. Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re hiking in the woods and you stumble upon a momma bear and her three cubs. Do you think that the best course of action in this situation is to share a handful of your go-to bible verses with the bears and keep walking, or should you slowly back away, turn, and run like a cheetah across the African plains back to safety?
Healthy fear can heighten and sharpen your senses, which in many situations is a great benefit. There is ample evidence that a person’s internal fight or flight mechanism is simply a natural response to situations that you’ll find yourself in. Like running into a momma bear and her three cubs, getting into a car accident, or having a volcano erupt near your home.
Whether you call it fear, or maybe just common sense, there is a healthy fear in life that again, can be a beneficial thing to recognize.
It’s also important to note that as followers of Christ, a healthy fear of the Lord is not only beneficial, it’s biblical. Let’s look at a few verses here to frame the idea;
Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…” The Hebrew word here also means reverence, which is important as we consider a healthy posture towards the Lord. It is good and right to hold Him in a place of awe and reverence. As the creator and sustainer of the entire cosmos He is the rightful owner of this uniquely divine place. To ascribe to Him something less is a theological misstep that none of us wants to make.
In Psalm 5:7 David says, “…in reverence I will bow down…” In Proverbs 9:10 Solomon adds that, “… the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” David had a healthy fear of the Lord throughout his life and Solomon knew the fear of the Lord was the beginning of both knowledge and wisdom. Divine reverence brings godly understanding, what an amazing gift!
Interestingly, Godly fear and reverence are fundamentally about acknowledging the proper place of the Lord as the divine creator and sustainer of the entire cosmos. As we move now to discuss unhealthy fear, make a note that it’s proper place is in the hands of this same almighty God, who has given us strength through his son Jesus to be free from the grip of unrighteous fear. We’ll talk more about this next week, but first let’s take a look at unhealthy fear.
Unhealthy fear can paralyze and stagnate you, and this is not God’s heart for you. As Paul explains in 2 Timothy 1:7, “…God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” God wants you to grow in relationship with Him, with your local church, in your relationships with other believers, and ultimately in faith. This journey is often called the process of sanctification and is described frequently throughout the New Testament. In his first letter to the church at Thessalonica Paul says, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified…” (1 Thessalonians 4:3) And in his letter to the church in Jerusalem, James says;
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
God wants us to persevere, to finish the race so that we will be mature and complete, not lacking anything. This process can be a costly one, and there are many potential problems and obstacles that could incite fear. Early church members faced all kinds of ridicule and persecution which would occasionally lead to death. Nowadays, I can’t say that we fear death in our country, but the potential is there to experience ridicule, bullying, and even ostracization because of your faith in Christ. Oh, and don’t forget that your allegiance to Christ makes you an enemy of the prince of this world. There are powers and principalities, spiritual wickedness in high places opposed to your faith. It is in the face of both earthly and eternal enemies that the Lord would remind us to fear not.
In fact, Jesus says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad…” (Matthew 5:11) Fear can rob you of joy and paralyze you from moving forward into all that God has called you to. Instead of a spirit of fear, you have been given a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline. Let’s take a moment to look at those three words and how they can help to strengthen your faith.
What I’m about to tell you is some of the most exciting and important news that a believer can receive. The same word that Paul uses to encourage Timothy is also the word that Jesus gave the disciples in Acts 1:8 when He said, “And you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” This kind of power leaves no room for fear or doubt. When a believer has the Holy Spirit working in and through them there is nothing that cannot be accomplished in accordance to the will of God. Not to mention,
“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Romans 8:11)
If you are experiencing unhealthy fear that is hindering you from experiencing the life in Christ that you are destined to live, then you need to check yourself, and remember that you were given a spirit of power; Miracle working, death-defying, grave robbing power in Christ to do all things in accordance with the will of God.
The book of 1 John uses the same word that Paul uses when he tells Timothy that he has a spirit of love, and this could be an entire sermon in and of itself; “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…” When we walk in a spirit of love, as Christ did, unhealthy fear is driven far away from us. Jesus walked to the cross in a spirit of love and we can assume that he walked out of the grave in the same empowered spirit. Don’t forget, this is the same spirit alive in you. The next time you’re experiencing fear or any of it’s associates like anxiety – worry – or doubt then check yourself to make sure you’re walking in a spirit of love.
How many in the room struggle with self-discipline? How many of us have struggled already today? You’re in good company, and I have good news to share with you.
It takes a lot of discipline to recognize fear and deal with it appropriately. It’s simply easier to let it go, shrug it off, and just call it a fact of life. The issue is, it’s not a fact of the life God has for you in Christ. Paul wraps up his encouragement to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:7 by reminding him that he has been given a spirit of self-discipline along with the other two. Discipline is an imperative ingredient in the process of sanctification. We need discipline to take the time necessary to accurately diagnose the fear we’re experiencing and even more discipline to deal with it.
Isn’t it just like God to give us exactly what we need? He knew that all three ingredients would be necessary on this side of heaven. And for all of us who struggle with self-discipline don’t forget that this is an area where you have been given power through the spirit to experience victory.
It speaks to just how destructive unhealthy fear can be in our lives that we need power, love, and self discipline to help us overcome it. We desperately need the discipline to check ourselves throughout the day. We need discipline to form new habits in identifying healthy fear from unhealthy fear and we need abundant power and love in our responses.
Thankfully, through Christ, we have been given a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.
This week the challenge for us is straightforward. When you begin to feel fear, take time to identify whether it’s a healthy or unhealthy fear you’re dealing with. Obviously, if you encounter a momma bear in the woods, don’t take too long trying to figure this one out, just run.
On the flipside, when you recognize unhealthy fear you can pray for the Lord to keep you walking in a spirit of power and love all while trusting that through the Holy Spirit you can experience breakthrough in the area of self-discipline.
In addition to this I would encourage you to write down the different situations you felt fearful in. What kind of fear was it? If it was unhealthy fear did you stop to check yourself to see if you were walking in a spirit of power and love? What were the situations or circumstances that caused you the most fear? Did you see any trends worth noting?
Learning to diagnose fear is an important step in dealing with it. And learning to deal with it will help you keep moving down the path God has for your life.
Let’s pray together.